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Thread: The Psychology of Revolution

  1. #1

    Default The Psychology of Revolution



    I have been re-reading this classic work by the pioneering French social psychologist, Gustave le Bon. Although first published in 1912, it remains insightful and well worth studying.

    A free out-of-copyright English translation is available online: http://socserv.mcmaster.ca/econ/ugcm...Revolution.pdf


    My motive in consulting this and more recent works on the topic of social revolution is to try to understand what is happening to the Irish social psyche in the wake of the rapid transition from wealth to relative hardship.

    The really interesting question concerns what is likely to happen in the coming months, especially after a new raft of cut-backs affecting social welfare recipients, as well as low- and middle-income groups.

    After some relatively mild sparks of anger late last year (pensioners, students, unions), the nation appears to have sunk into a kind of collective shocked resignation. However, I do not believe that this will last. There is, surely, a tipping point that could lead to widespread anger, unrest, violence and repression.


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  2. #2

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    Thanks for that. I would add, not just transition to hardship, but also the sense of deep disenfranchisement and alienation that many people may feel over how we are being treated by our State with regards to Tara, Shannon, Corrib gas, zoning of lands etc., and the recourse of law not being there to protect us.

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    Politics.ie Member sauntersplash's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Utopian Hermit Monk View Post



    After some relatively mild sparks of anger late last year (pensioners, students, unions), the nation appears to have sunk into a kind of collective shocked resignation. However, I do not believe that this will last. There is, surely, a tipping point that could lead to widespread anger, unrest, violence and repression.


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    In the absence of any guiding ideology whatsoever I can see the anger, unrest, violence and repression of the populace manifesting itself in nothing but the usual old prejudices. "Emigrants did it", "Public Service did it", "Bankers did it".

    We are divided and we are ruled.

    Looks like an interesting read though, I'll get back to you when I get a chance to check it out. Ever read Fanon?
    "No." - Rosa Parks

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    Tara, Shannon, Corrib gas
    Those issues have only marginal interest among Irish people.

    The majority of Irish people are interested in loss of their investments, the devaluation of their homes and property, unemployment, cutbacks in education, health care and welfare, a fall in living standards and how long before there can be an economic recovery.

  5. #5

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    Right now, I suspect that the perception of glaring inequity in the distribution of post-downturn pain is like a slow-burning fuse that could easily result in a significant social explosion.

    From certain public pronouncements by Government ministers (usually along the lines of: "We must protect the interests of the most vulnerable.") the danger of serious social upheaval is a significant factor in their political and economic calculations. However, I am not at all convinced that their actions match their pronouncements. Hence, the fuse of widespread anger continues to burn. It is still slow-burning (perhaps masked by sadness and depression), but the next wave of cutbacks in public spending could speed things up considerably!



    p.s. @sauntersplash:
    Yes. Fanon's 'The Wretched of the Earth' is also on my re-read list.



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  6. #6

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    The Psychology of Revolution
    Part I, Book I, Chapter I

    Although the origin of a revolution may be perfectly rational, we must not forget that the reasons invoked in preparing for it do not influence the crowd until they have been transformed into sentiments. Rational logic can point to the abuses to be destroyed, but to move the multitude its hopes must be awakened. This can only be effected by the action of the affective and mystic elements which give man the power to act.
    Whatever its origin, a revolution is not productive of results until it has sunk into the soul of the multitude.

    The above helps to explain why Ireland is not, in spite of our multiple economic and social woes, on the verge of revolution. For one thing, we lack the kind of rational discourse that might engage the mass of the people, by means of a 'mystic' and/or affective logic, and subsequently produce a non-rational collective 'logic' that could result in revolutionary action.

    Many people do not like where we now find ourselves, but they are not being offered clear ideas regarding viable alternatives. The recent elections provided clear evidence of a mood of protest, but the protest is within conventional boundaries. We Irish like to grumble, but we are politically conservative.

    Our political discourse, as exemplified by Dáil and Seanad 'debates', continues to be parochial rather than principled. Professional commentators and their audiences are more interested in anecdotes and gossip than in ideology. Generally speaking, we are not driven by ideas.

    We have no indigenous philosophical tradition. Even in the religious sphere, most Irish believers are theologically illiterate. Religious faith (like political faith) is predominantly affective. We are more imaginative than intellectual.

    Our present difficulties could well result in sporadic outbreaks of emotion-driven civil unrest (along the lines of last years pensioners/students' protests, but on a much larger scale). But we far removed from a collective longing for any particular kind of radical social/political change that could impel the masses to engage in transformative action of the kind witnessed, for example, during Ukraine's 'Orange Revolution'.

    Right now, in spite of the truly shocking change in our economic and social circumstances, 'change' is reduced to choosing between a Government led by FF or FG, Brian or Enda, Tweedledum or Tweedledee. In early 21st century Ireland, politics really is that banal!


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    Politics.ie Member Libero's Avatar
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    I've always had a lot of time for the J-curve theory of revolutions:
    "Revolutions are most likely to occur when a prolonged period of objective economic and social development is followed by a short period of sharp reversal. People then subjectively fear that ground gained with great effort will be quite lost; their mood becomes revolutionary."
    (James Chowning Davies - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

    Here's a graph:


    Here's the Classic Citations take: http://garfield.library.upenn.edu/cl...NQ25300001.pdf

    Of course it follows that if society (or elements of society) re-adjust its expectations downwards, the gap no longer exists. And looking at Ireland today, a lot of people with good reason to be angry are also displaying emotions like despondency and resignation that will keep that anger in check, at least on a political level. At a wider national level, we're all being asked to believe by the great and good in the paradox of sacrificing living standards now for the sake of eventual recovery. Of course that only works for a while...

    Mass emigration also helps. Students and the young are often at the vanguard of any revolution but if they think that emigration is the natural order of things, then they’ll probably be brought up to accept it and even look forward to it. It wouldn’t be the first time.
    Last edited by Libero; 2nd July 2009 at 01:11 PM.

  8. #8

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    An interesting graph, Libero.

    Do most Irish people find the gap between expectations and reality acceptable or unacceptable?
    I suspect that the former is the case, partly because many people's expectation was that the 'good times' wouldn't last anyhow.
    Unfortunately, our present reality may actually confirm an expectation that the 'cutehoorism' of recent tears would end in tears, or that we Irish never really deserved to belong to the Rich Club.
    Could this explain, in part, why the predominant reaction to the present mess is more shocked paralysis than indignant activism? As you point out, if reaction to the crisis has been a downwards readjustment of expectations, the Unacceptable Gap disappears, along with any prospect of fundamental political change.


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    Ultimately, any revolution in Ireland will begin with the Republican Movement. No other group of people in Ireland have the tradition or the determination necessary to do what must be done. All thats lacking is the RM fully adopting Marxist theory. Without Marxist theory, the IRA is just banging its head against the border, which is OK with the ruling class, because that really isnt their weak point. When we get a fully Marxist IRA, the bourgeois state will have its days numbered.

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    Politics.ie Member sauntersplash's Avatar
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    Some ill thought out obstacles to revolution -

    -It is simply unimaginable to most of the people in our society. They are unable to conceive of what might be actually involved in armed struggle. They are incapable of imagining what it might be like to walk for two miles when their car breaks down let alone sit in the rain for three days with bullets whizzing past their heads.

    - Ireland has never really had a military class, we have very very very few people with the knowledge/experience/confidence to get involved with this sort of thing.

    - People are asleep. They are consumers and have been programmed to believe that it is possible improve their lot only through the purchasing of new objects.

    - The rhetoric of revolution has been co-opted and disarmed. Sold for a hip Che Guevara t-shirt. "Adults" can no longer take it seriously.

    - The proletariat (for want of a better word) has no ideology. Without them nothing can happen.

    - There are no common goals in society. It is impossible to unite a society in our state of decline. Most citizens are forced to see it as every man for himself. They distrust 'the public'.

    - Simon Cowell is in control of peoples hopes and dreams. This is how poverty stricken peoples imaginations have become. This is how degraded their conception of the human being is.

    - Most people feel, in the back of their minds, that they don't really have it all that bad.
    "No." - Rosa Parks

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